For the Doctor Watsons of this world, as opposed to the Sherlock
Holmeses, success in the province of detective work must be, to a very
large extent, the result of luck. Sherlock Holmes can extract a clue
from a wisp of straw or a flake of cigar ash. But Doctor Watson has got
to have it taken out for him, and dusted, and exhibited clearly, with a
The average man is a Doctor Watson. We are wont to scoff in a
patronizing manner at that humbler follower of the great investigator,
but, as a matter of fact, we should have been just as dull ourselves. We
should not even have risen to the modest level of a Scotland Yard
bungler. We should simply have hung around, saying: "My dear Holmes,
how...?" and all the rest of it, just as the downtrodden medico did.
It is not often that the ordinary person has any need to see what he can
do in the way of detection. He gets along very comfortably in the
humdrum round of life without having to measure footprints and smile
quiet, tight-lipped smiles. But if ever the emergency does arise, he
thinks naturally of Sherlock Holmes, and his methods.
Mr. Downing had read all the Holmes stories with great attention, and
had thought many times what an incompetent ass Doctor Watson was; but,
now that he had started to handle his own first case, he was compelled
to admit that there was a good deal to be said in extenuation of
Watson's inability to unravel tangles. It certainly was uncommonly hard,
he thought, as he paced the cricket field after leaving Sergeant
Collard, to detect anybody, unless you knew who had really done the
crime. As he brooded over the case in hand, his sympathy for Doctor
Watson increased with every minute, and he began to feel a certain
resentment against Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was all very well for Sir
Arthur to be so shrewd and infallible about tracing a mystery to its
source, but he knew perfectly well who had done the thing before
Now that he began really to look into this matter of the alarm bell and
the painting of Sammy, the conviction was creeping over him that the
problem was more difficult than a casual observer might imagine. He had
got as far as finding that his quarry of the previous night was a boy in
Mr. Outwood's house, but how was he to get any further? That was the
thing. There was, of course, only a limited number of boys in Mr.
Outwood's house as tall as the one he had pursued; but even if there had
been only one other, it would have complicated matters. If you go to a
boy and say, "Either you or Jones were out of your house last night at
twelve o'clock," the boy does not reply, "Sir, I cannot tell a lie--I
was out of my house last night at twelve o'clock." He simply assumes the
animated expression of a stuffed fish, and leaves the next move to you.
It is practically stalemate.
All these things passed through Mr. Downing's mind as he walked up and
down the cricket field that afternoon.
What he wanted was a clue. But it is so hard for the novice to tell what
is a clue and what isn't. Probably, if he only knew, there were clues
lying all over the place, shouting to him to pick them up.
What with the oppressive heat of the day and the fatigue of hard
thinking, Mr. Downing was working up for a brainstorm when Fate once
more intervened, this time in the shape of Riglett, a junior member of
Riglett slunk up in the shamefaced way peculiar to some boys, even when
they have done nothing wrong, and, having "capped" Mr. Downing with the
air of one who had been caught in the act of doing something
particularly shady, requested that he might be allowed to fetch his
bicycle from the shed.
"Your bicycle?" snapped Mr. Downing. Much thinking had made him
irritable. "What do you want with your bicycle?"
Riglett shuffled, stood first on his left foot, then on his right,
blushed, and finally remarked, as if it were not so much a sound reason
as a sort of feeble excuse for the low and blackguardly fact that he
wanted his bicycle, that he had got leave for tea that afternoon.
Then Mr. Downing remembered. Riglett had an aunt resident about three
miles from the school, whom he was accustomed to visit occasionally on
Sunday afternoons during the term.
He felt for his bunch of keys, and made his way to the shed, Riglett
shambling behind at an interval of two yards.
Mr. Downing unlocked the door, and there on the floor was the Clue!
A clue that even Doctor Watson could not have overlooked.
Mr. Downing saw it, but did not immediately recognize it for what it
was. What he saw at first was not a clue, but just a mess. He had a tidy
soul and abhorred messes. And this was a particularly messy mess. The
greater part of the flooring in the neighborhood of the door was a sea
of red paint. The tin from which it had flowed was lying on its side in
the middle of the shed. The air was full of the pungent scent.
"Pah!" said Mr. Downing.
Then suddenly, beneath the disguise of the mess, he saw the clue. A
footmark! No less. A crimson footmark on the gray concrete!
Riglett, who had been waiting patiently two yards away, now coughed
plaintively. The sound recalled Mr. Downing to mundane matters.
"Get your bicycle, Riglett," he said, "and be careful where you tread.
Somebody has upset a pot of paint on the floor."
Riglett, walking delicately through dry places, extracted his bicycle
from the rack, and presently departed to gladden the heart of his aunt,
leaving Mr. Downing, his brain fizzing with the enthusiasm of the
detective, to lock the door and resume his perambulation of the
Give Doctor Watson a fair start, and he is a demon at the game. Mr.
Downing's brain was now working with a rapidity and clearness which a
professional sleuth might have envied.
Paint. Red paint. Obviously the same paint with which Sammy had been
decorated. A footmark. Whose footmark? Plainly that of the criminal who
had done the deed of decoration.
There were two things, however, to be considered. Your careful detective
must consider everything. In the first place, the paint might have been
upset by the groundsman. It was the groundsman's paint. He had been
giving a fresh coating to the woodwork in front of the pavilion scoring
box at the conclusion of yesterday's match. (A labor of love which was
the direct outcome of the enthusiasm for work which Adair had instilled
into him.) In that case the footmark might be his.
_Note one_: Interview the groundsman on this point.
In the second place Adair might have upset the tin and trodden in its
contents when he went to get his bicycle in order to fetch the doctor
for the suffering MacPhee. This was the more probable of the two
contingencies, for it would have been dark in the shed when Adair
went into it.
_Note two_: Interview Adair as to whether he found, on returning to the
house, that there was paint on his shoes.
Things were moving.
* * * * *
He resolved to take Adair first. He could get the groundsman's address
Passing by the trees under whose shade Mike and Psmith and Dunster had
watched the match on the previous day, he came upon the Head of his
house in a deck chair reading a book. A summer Sunday afternoon is the
time for reading in deck chairs.
"Oh, Adair," he said. "No, don't get up. I merely wished to ask you if
you found any paint on your shoes when you returned to the house
"Paint, sir?" Adair was plainly puzzled. His book had been interesting,
and had driven the Sammy incident out of his head.
"I see somebody has spilled some paint on the floor of the bicycle shed.
You did not do that, I suppose, when you went to fetch your bicycle?"
"It is spilled all over the floor. I wondered whether you had happened
to tread in it. But you say you found no paint on your shoes
"No, sir, my bicycle is always quite near the door of the shed. I didn't
go into the shed at all."
"I see. Quite so. Thank you, Adair. Oh, by the way, Adair, where does
"I forget the name of his cottage, sir, but I could show you in a
second. It's one of those cottages just past the school gates, on the
right as you turn out into the road. There are three in a row. His is
the first you come to. There's a barn just before you get to them."
"Thank you. I shall be able to find them. I should like to speak to
Markby for a moment on a small matter."
A sharp walk took him to the cottages Adair had mentioned. He rapped at
the door of the first, and the groundsman came out in his shirt sleeves,
blinking as if he had just waked up, as was indeed the case.
"You remember that you were painting the scoring box in the pavilion
last night after the match?"
"Yes, sir. It wanted a lick of paint bad. The young gentlemen will
scramble about and get through the window. Makes it look shabby, sir. So
I thought I'd better give it a coating so as to look shipshape when the
Marylebone come down."
"Just so. An excellent idea. Tell me, Markby, what did you do with the
pot of paint when you had finished?"
"Put it in the bicycle shed, sir."
"On the floor?"
"On the floor, sir? No. On the shelf at the far end, with the can of
whitening what I use for marking out the wickets, sir."
"Of course, yes. Quite so. Just as I thought."
"Do you want it, sir?"
"No, thank you, Markby, no, thank you. The fact is, somebody who had no
business to do so has moved the pot of paint from the shelf to the
floor, with the result that it has been kicked over and spilled. You had
better get some more tomorrow. Thank you, Markby. That is all I
wished to know."
Mr. Downing walked back to the school thoroughly excited. He was hot on
the scent now. The only other possible theories had been tested and
successfully exploded. The thing had become simple to a degree. All he
had to do was to go to Mr. Outwood's house--the idea of searching a
fellow master's house did not appear to him at all a delicate task;
somehow one grew unconsciously to feel that Mr. Outwood did not really
exist as a man capable of resenting liberties--find the paint-splashed
shoe, ascertain its owner, and denounce him to the headmaster. There
could be no doubt that a paint-splashed shoe must be in Mr. Outwood's
house somewhere. A boy cannot tread in a pool of paint without showing
some signs of having done so. It was Sunday, too, so that the shoe would
not yet have been cleaned. Yoicks! Also tally-ho! This really was
beginning to be something like business.
Regardless of the heat, the sleuth-hound hurried across to Outwood's as
fast as he could walk.